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   Chapter 18 No.18

The Little Nugget By P. G. Wodehouse Characters: 8378

Updated: 2017-11-29 00:05


'No manners!' said Mrs Drassilis. 'None whatever. I always said so.'

She spoke bitterly. She was following the automobile with an offended eye as it moved down the drive.

The car rounded the corner. Sam turned and waved a farewell. Mr and Mrs Ford, seated close together in the tonneau, did not even look round.

Mrs Drassilis sniffed disgustedly.

'She's a friend of Cynthia's. Cynthia asked me to come down here with her to see you. I came, to oblige her. And now, without a word of apology, she leaves me stranded. She has no manners whatever.'

I offered no defence of the absent one. The verdict more or less squared with my own opinion.

'Is Cynthia back in England?' I asked, to change the subject.

'The yacht got back yesterday. Peter, I have something of the utmost importance to speak to you about.' She glanced at Jarvis the chauffeur, leaning back in his seat with the air, peculiar to chauffeurs in repose, of being stuffed. 'Walk down the drive with me.'

I helped her out of the car, and we set off in silence. There was a suppressed excitement in my companion's manner which interested me, and something furtive which brought back all my old dislike of her. I could not imagine what she could have to say to me that had brought her all these miles.

'How do you come to be down here?' she said. 'When Cynthia told me you were here, I could hardly believe her. Why are you a master at this school? I cannot understand it!'

'What did you want to see me about?' I asked.

She hesitated. It was always an effort for her to be direct. Now, apparently, the effort was too great. The next moment she had rambled off on some tortuous bypath of her own, which, though it presumably led in the end to her destination, was evidently a long way round.

'I have known you for so many years now, Peter, and I don't know of anybody whose character I admire more. You are so generous-quixotic in fact. You are one of the few really unselfish men I have ever met. You are always thinking of other people. Whatever it cost you, I know you would not hesitate to give up anything if you felt that it was for someone else's happiness. I do admire you so for it. One meets so few young men nowadays who consider anybody except themselves.'

She paused, either for breath or for fresh ideas, and I took advantage of the lull in the rain of bouquets to repeat my question.

'What did you want to see me about?' I asked patiently.

'About Cynthia. She asked me to see you.'

'Oh!'

'You got a letter from her.'

'Yes.'

'Last night, when she came home, she told me about it, and showed me your answer. It was a beautiful letter, Peter. I'm sure I cried when I read it. And Cynthia did, I feel certain. Of course, to a girl of her character that letter was final. She is so loyal, dear child.'

'I don't understand.'

As Sam would have said, she seemed to be speaking; words appeared to be fluttering from her; but her meaning was beyond me.

'Once she has given her promise, I am sure nothing would induce her to break it, whatever her private feelings. She is so loyal. She has such character.'

'Would you mind being a little clearer?' I said sharply. 'I really don't understand what it is you are trying to tell me. What do you mean about loyalty and character? I don't understand.'

She was not to be hustled from her bypath. She had chosen her route, and she meant to travel by it, ignoring short-cuts.

'To Cynthia, as I say, it was final. She simply could not see that the matter was not irrevocably settled. I thought it so fine of her. But I am her mother, and it was my duty not to give in and accept the situation as inevitable while there was anything I could do for her happiness. I knew your chivalrous, unselfish nature, Peter. I could speak to you as Cynthia could not. I could appeal to your generosity in a way impossible, of course, for her. I could put the whole facts of the case clearly before you.'

I snatched at the words.

'I wish you would. What are they?'

She rambled off again.

'She has such a rigid sense of duty. There is no arguing with her. I told her that, if you knew, you would not dream of standin

g in her way. You are so generous, such a true friend, that your only thought would be for her. If her happiness depended on your releasing her from her promise, you would not think of yourself. So in the end I took matters into my own hands and came to see you. I am truly sorry for you, dear Peter, but to me Cynthia's happiness, of course, must come before everything. You do understand, don't you?'

Gradually, as she was speaking, I had begun to grasp hesitatingly at her meaning, hesitatingly, because the first hint of it had stirred me to such a whirl of hope that I feared to risk the shock of finding that, after all, I had been mistaken. If I were right-and surely she could mean nothing else-I was free, free with honour. But I could not live on hints. I must hear this thing in words.

'Has-has Cynthia-' I stopped, to steady my voice. 'Has Cynthia found-' I stopped again. I was finding it absurdly difficult to frame my sentence. 'Is there someone else?' I concluded with a rush.

Mrs Drassilis patted my arm sympathetically.

'Be brave, Peter!'

'There is?'

'Yes.'

The trees, the drive, the turf, the sky, the birds, the house, the automobile, and Jarvis, the stuffed chauffeur, leaped together for an instant in one whirling, dancing mass of which I was the centre. And then, out of the chaos, as it separated itself once more into its component parts, I heard my voice saying, 'Tell me.'

The world was itself again, and I was listening quietly and with a mild interest which, try as I would, I could not make any stronger. I had exhausted my emotion on the essential fact: the details were an anticlimax.

'I liked him directly I saw him,' said Mrs Drassilis. 'And, of course, as he was such a friend of yours, we naturally-'

'A friend of mine?'

'I am speaking of Lord Mountry.'

'Mountry? What about him?' Light flooded in on my numbed brain.

'You don't mean-Is it Lord Mountry?'

My manner must have misled her. She stammered in her eagerness to dispel what she took to be my misapprehension.

'Don't think that he acted in anything but the most honourable manner. Nothing could be farther from the truth. He knew nothing of Cynthia's engagement to you. She told him when he asked her to marry him, and he-as a matter of fact, it was he who insisted on dear Cynthia writing that letter to you.'

She stopped, apparently staggered by this excursion into honesty.

'Well?'

'In fact, he dictated it.'

'Oh!'

'Unfortunately, it was quite the wrong sort of letter. It was the very opposite of clear. It can have given you no inkling of the real state of affairs.'

'It certainly did not.'

'He would not allow her to alter it in any way. He is very obstinate at times, like so many shy men. And when your answer came, you see, things were worse than before.'

'I suppose so.'

'I could see last night how unhappy they both were. And when Cynthia suggested it, I agreed at once to come to you and tell you everything.'

She looked at me anxiously. From her point of view, this was the climax, the supreme moment. She hesitated. I seemed to see her marshalling her forces, the telling sentences, the persuasive adjectives; rallying them together for the grand assault.

But through the trees I caught a glimpse of Audrey, walking on the lawn; and the assault was never made.

'I will write to Cynthia tonight,' I said, 'wishing her happiness.'

'Oh, Peter!' said Mrs Drassilis.

'Don't mention it,' said I.

Doubts appeared to mar her perfect contentment.

'You are sure you can convince her?'

'Convince her?'

'And-er-Lord Mountry. He is so determined not to do anything-er-what he would call unsportsmanlike.'

'Perhaps I had better tell her I am going to marry some one else,'

I suggested.

'I think that would be an excellent idea,' she said, brightening visibly. 'How clever of you to have thought of it.'

She permitted herself a truism.

'After all, dear Peter, there are plenty of nice girls in the world. You have only to look for them.'

'You're perfectly right,' I said. 'I'll start at once.'

A gleam of white caught my eye through the trees by the lawn. I moved towards it.

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